The teenage years are difficult for girls for many reasons—and one of which, of course, is that they are faced with all kinds of challenges to their body confidence as they grow into women. Consider this: About 91% of college-age American women are not happy with their bodies. And is it any surprise? With unrealistic standards for beauty portrayed in the media, so many girls grow up comparing themselves to an image that they’ll never live up to.
In other words, it’s time to consider how we talk to our daughters about developing a healthy body image. After all, it’s part of your job as a mum to prepare your daughter for the pressures she’ll face and, more importantly, help her to develop positive strategies for dealing with them.
In this guide, we’ve broken down some tried-and-true tactics for talking to your daughter about body confidence.
Be a Good Role Model
It’s crucial that when you talk to your daughter, you’re aware of how you talk about your own body. By modeling comfort in your own skin, you’ll help her to embrace her body as well. That means avoiding negative comments about your weight or the size/shape of someone else’s body, which your daughter could easily absorb.
Speaking of which, you’ll want to learn to compliment her in the right way. Instead of pointing out that she’s lost weight or making a comment about how great her body looks, note how strong she looks. Make it a point to say things that demonstrate acceptance and also an appreciation for your own body and what it’s capable of.
Don’t discuss your dieting, at mealtime or otherwise. Encourage your daughter to view nutrition from a balanced standpoint, which means eating both kale and cupcakes. If you talk about being “bad” by eating dessert, she will start to develop shame around eating certain foods. You want your daughter to build a healthy mindset around food.
This is a big one. While it may be tempting to launch into an inspirational lecture about body image, your daughter may very well tune out. The idea is to keep the conversation open, which means letting her talk. In fact, you may be surprised at what you’ll learn when you give her a chance to open up about her concerns or insecurities. As a general rule, listen more than you try to talk during any discussions about body image.
When you do talk, you want to acknowledge that her feelings are valid. Feel free to be honest about your own struggles with body image, but focus on how you’re working on them and trying to improve in that regard—and make sure that your teen knows the dialogue is ongoing, it’s not just a one-time chat. That way, she’ll feel more comfortable bringing it up down the road if necessary.
Many teens develop negative body images because they think they have to fit a certain mold—and if they aren’t the right shape or size, they think they’re not beautiful. That’s why it’s important that your daughter has some pieces in her closet that work for her figure and, moreover, which make her feel great about her body. Take some time on your next shopping trip to identify which brands and silhouettes make her feel the most confident.
Don’t overlook the power of high-quality, well-fitting undergarments. As a foundation for every ensemble, the right bra can make your teen feel more comfortable with her body, especially as it’s developing and changing. It’s a good idea to get your daughter professionally fitted first to determine her correct size (this can be done at many department stores and lingerie boutiques)—that way, you can ensure any bras you buy fit her perfectly. You may also want to invest in a quality, well-fitting sports bra with plenty of support so that she doesn’t feel self-conscious about her body while exercising.
One of the things you should focus on in talking to your daughter about body confidence is identifying what she does like about herself rather than what she doesn’t. It’s easy to get caught up in what we see as “flaws” we want to “fix.” So, consider sitting down with her and writing a list of five to ten things you like about yourselves, whether that’s how tidy you are, how fast you can run, or how creatively talented or funny you are.
Take note if the majority of the things on her list are body-related and, if they are, make it a point to talk about how self-worth extends beyond how you look (and take the time to re-do the exercise). It can be fun to switch it up and write a list of what you like about each other as well.
Move Together—for the Right Reasons
Working out together isn’t just a great opportunity for some mother-daughter bonding; it’s also a chance to instill the idea that exercise has a lot of benefits that are far more important than losing weight or making your body look a certain way.
For example, exercise can be a great mood booster and stress reliever. Try a variety of different kinds of physical activities, whether it’s jogging, tennis, swimming, dance classes, yoga, or cycling, so she can find something that’s enjoyable for her—after all, she’s only likely to stick with something if she has fun doing it.
Make sure that you emphasize that working out should never feel like a chore or an obligation to “stay in shape.” Instead, it should be something you look forward to!